Dolphinaris Arizona: Mystery Over Death of Fourth Dolphin in 16 Months at Marine Mammal Park

A fourth dolphin has died at a controversial sea life attraction in Arizona within 16 months, prompting protests from animal rights campaigners. Staff at Dolphinaris Arizona euthanized bottlenose dolphin Kai on Thursday morning, ABC15 reported, citing a statement from the facility. The 22-year-old animal had struggled to eat, swim and breathe in the past two weeks. The cause of the animal's aliments are unclear.

Christian Schaeffer, the general manager of the Dolphinaris​, acknowledged in a statement seen by ABC15 that the death of four dolphins in the last year and a half is "abnormal." He described the latest loss as "devastating."

"We will be taking proactive measures to increase our collaborative efforts to further ensure our dolphins' well-being and high quality of life," he said. Independent experts have been tasked with investigating the deaths, according to Schaeffer.

Lincoln O'Barry, of the animal welfare non-profit Dolphin Project, commented in a statement: "With four out of eight dolphins dying inside of 16 months, the situation has reached critical mass. For the safety of the public and the remaining dolphins, all activities should cease at Dolphinaris Arizona until an independent investigation takes place."

A banner attached to a plane spotted flying near the Waste Management Phoenix Open golf tournament on January 31 read: "Dolphinaris: Why are 3 dolphins dead." The Dolphin Project said in a post on its website seen by ABC 15 that it had commissioned the banner with campaign group DolphinFreeAZ. The post has since been deleted. It was unclear whether the sign was made before protesters became aware of the fourth death.

.@Dolphinaris_AZ Why Are 3 Dolphins Dead? #DolphinarisAZ

— Dolphin Project (@Dolphin_Project) January 31, 2019

Kai's death comes after Atlantic bottle nose dolphin Khloe,11, passed on December 30, 2018 due to complications caused by a parasite. In May 2018, Alia, 10, died of a bacterial infection, Fox10 reported at the time. And dolphin Bodie, 7, died of a "rare muscle disease" in September 2017.

Khloe experienced a "long, chronic illness," caused by the parasite sarcocystis for the past six years, the organization said in a statement. ​Sarcocystis "causes severe central nervous system and muscle disease, as well as weakens the immune system to other pathogens," Schaeffer explained at the time.

The sea creature was brought to the facility in 2016, and had the parasite when she arrived, Schaeffer said, adding the animal had "exceptional veterinary care for nearly six years," and the facility enlisted the help of dolphin experts "globally" to try to extend her life. According to the aquarium, the chance of surviving sarcocystis is slim, and the way the disease affects dolphins is little understood.

Kai's passing comes amid a climate of anger towards the existence of marine mammal parks, partly stoked by the 2013 documentary Black Fish. In 2016, the Dolphinaris Arizona became the first such dolphin facility to open in the U.S. in a decade, ABC15 reported. At the time, animal rights protesters campaigned against the opening of the park situated in what the broadcaster described as a "dirt and cactus landscape near a freeway" in the Sonoran desert.

dolphin stock
A stock image of a dolphin. A fourth animal has died at the Dolphinaris Arizona in 16 months. Getty Images